Country Listing

Angola Table of Contents


Roots of Discontent


Under the Salazar regime, Angolans who neither spoke Portuguese nor behaved as Europeans, like this mother and child, were classified as indígenas.
Courtesy Richard J. Hough

Portugal's assimilationist policy had produced a small group of educated Africans who considered themselves Portuguese. But as this group recognized that it was not fully respected by the Portuguese and as it became increasingly aware of its alienation from its traditional origins, some members began to articulate resentment, both of their own ambiguous social and cultural situations and of the plight of the nonassimilated majority of Africans. From among their ranks emerged most of the first generation of liberation movement leaders.

The influx of rural Africans to towns also bred anticolonial resentment. In the 1950s, the population of Luanda almost doubled, and most of the growth was among Africans. Lured by the expectation of work, Africans in towns became aware of the inequality of opportunities between Europeans and Africans. The compulsory labor system that many had experienced in rural areas was regarded as the most onerous aspect of Portuguese rule. More than any other factor, this system, which was not abolished until 1962, united many Africans in resentment of Portuguese rule.

The Salazar government's settlement policies contributed to the spread of anticolonial resentment, especially after 1945. These policies resulted in increased competition for employment and growing racial friction. Between 1955 and 1960, for example, the government brought from Portugal and the Cape Verde Islands more than 55,000 whites. Induced to emigrate by government promises of money and free houses, these peasants settled on colonatos (large agricultural communities). Many immigrants to the colonatos were unskilled at farming, often lacked an elementary education, or were too old for vigorous manual labor. Consequently, many of them were unsuccessful on the colonatos and, after a time, moved to towns where they competed with Africans, often successfully, for skilled and unskilled jobs. The Portuguese who held jobs of lower social status often felt it all the more necessary to claim social superiority over the Africans.

External events also played a role in the development of the independence movements. While most European powers were preparing to grant independence to their African colonies, the Salazar regime was seeking to reassert its grasp on its colonies, as witnessed by the effort it expended in the ill-fated colonatos system.

There were two basic patterns in the rise of nationalism in Angola. In one case, African assimilados and other urban Africans with some education joined urban mestiços and whites in associations based on the assumption that their interests were different from, and perhaps in competition with, those of the majority of the African population still attached to their rural communities. Angolans also formed organizations based on ethnic or religious groupings that encompassed or at least sought to include rural Africans, although the leaders of these organizations often had some education and urban experience.

Data as of February 1989